Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


(1920 - 1999)

watercolour, pen and ink on paper

65.0 x 99.5 cm

signed and dated lower right: John Brack ‘92

$75,000 - 100,000
Sold for $102,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


John Brack, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 1993

Catalogue text

Throughout the 1980s John Brack used simple implements from his studio such as pens and pencils as a dramatic visual metaphor for mankind's propensity to align and identify oneself within groups. Strategically constructed to symbolise ideological combat, the pencil works powerfully represented human conflict and opposition and they posited themselves as modern expressions of the time-honoured genre of the battle painting in art history. Towards the end of this series, Brack began to incorporate finely carved wooden hands holding up a vast array of postcards depicting mythological, political and spiritual leaders from throughout the course of civilisation. He seemed to be commenting on the eternal return of history and the two contradictory qualities of life; its inherent transience and the ability of all beings and organisms to simply carry on in a perpetual cycle of birth, growth and death. This message is reiterated unequivocally in his manikin paintings, which were among the final works painted by the artist. The last painting, depicting a group of manikins and Pinocchio figures standing steadfast on a marble table was in fact titled, Finale 1992 (Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane).

Much has been discussed regarding notions of play and optimism in John Brack's manikin paintings. As Christopher Heathcote observed, 'I can't help suspecting that his exhibits may also be about one generation making way for the next. The cipher-like, unpainted dolls appear to denote psychologically unformed children. ... As for what they are doing, the gymnastics and ballroom dancing is an allegory for children learning social rituals, with each doll practising how to behave and interact with others.'1 Certainly a degree of humour and playfulness is in ample evidence in The Tumblers 1992. As always with Brack's work a darker message belies the simplest of compositions and in this case the two figure pairs to the right and left appear to be almost tossing their partners over the edge of the tabletop. When Brack incorporated the manikins into his repertoire the marble table, which had become the standard arena for his battle paintings, suddenly became a stage for his many ideas and metaphors. The famous quote from Shakespeare's As You Like comes to mind, 'All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his lifetime plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.' Indeed Brack included the manikins in Seven on the Table (private collection) in 1990, seemingly a direct reference to that famous Shakespeare line.

1. Heathcote, C., as quoted in Gott, T., A Question of Balance, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, 2000 p. 39